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La Grange aux Belles Coup de Boule 2015

La Grange aux Belles Coup de Boule 2015

After classics from Jacky Blot in Montlouis last week, and Alphonse Mellot in Sancerre the week before that, I think it is perhaps time for something a little less conventional, and this wine from Marc Houtin, of La Grange aux Belles, seems to fit the bill. Now before we go any further I have to admit to having flirted – unsuccessfully it must be said – with this domaine before. A few years ago, in order to make up a twelve-bottle order from an online merchant, I chanced upon a sweet wine from this estate. I suppose I could have clicked on another bottle of the Clos des Briords from Domaine de la Pépière (always a wise) move, but I decided I should instead broaden my horizons with something new. I wished I hadn’t; it was horrendously oxidised. Maybe it was just an off bottle, but in the experimental, zero-sulphur, anything-goes world of Anjou I didn’t have the appetite or the time to investigate further. I don’t think I have been back for more since.

They say first impressions really matter. But memories fade with time, and they also say that everybody deserves a second chance. Especially someone like Marc Houtin, who has worked hard to build his domaine from scratch, without even an inherited vine to his name. He is based in Soulaines-sur-Aubance, which sits on the banks of the Aubance roughly west of Brissac-Quincé, working out of some very functional, industrial-looking buildings. Having worked in the petrochemical industry, Marc’s passion for wine finally caused him to throw in his oily towel in 2001, and after a little study, and a little work experience, in 2004 he took the plunge and purchased 9.5 hectares in Anjou.

La Grange aux Belles Coup de Boule 2015

The vines he bought had come on the market when the owner retired; they had been conventionally managed for many years, were in poor condition, and as the fruit had always been sold to the cooperative there were no winemaking facilities. It was a slow start, and far from easy I am sure, but before long Marc was vinifying and bottling everything himself, and the vineyard expanded to 14 hectares. The vineyards are rich in red as well as white varieties, and from a still relatively small vineyard Marc makes a remarkable portfolio of wines. This very weekend I came to be nursing a glass of one of them, Marc’s Coup de Bulle.

First up I can’t help but comment on the label. I have absolutely no idea why it depicts one crystal giant (I realise they might not be giants, and might not be crystal, but to my mind they are) head-butting another (I know this is the meaning of coup de boule, a play on bulles I guess, but why crystal giants?), but I like it. There is no mention of the vintage, but I am fairly certain it is 2015, the 2014 having had a different label (with the vintage declared). There is a lot number for the geeks (this includes me, by the way) which is CB 001, otherwise there is little to distinguish this bottle from any other. The wine is a blend of Gamay and Grolleau, and made using the méthode ancestrale, or at the very least a modified version of it.

In the bottle the 2015 La Grange aux Belles Coup de Boule has a really deeply coloured rosé, more cherry red than anything else, and in the glass this intensity doesn’t seem even slightly lessened. If you know Bordeaux clairet, which is usually a fairly dark hue, then that’s the sort of colour we are looking at. It has a very subtle bead, with not much evidence of the bulles when popping the crown cap, nor in the glass, although they do certainly show themselves on the palate. The nose is full of really ripe raspberry fruit, the flavour you get when the berries have turned from that fresh, vibrant red to a darker and more matt appearance, with notes of cherries too. The palate is full and fresh, in part coming from a lacing of residual sugar, giving it a sweet, textural feel underneath the fascinating fruit character. Here in the mouth this feels a touch more medicinal, with cherry stone, lightly bitter, and with a little liquorice lick. A nice mousse, with zippy acids giving at a lovely freshness in the finish, despite that lingering touch of sweetness. It remains me vaguely (but more convincingly than anything else I have tasted since) of Mark Angeli’s 2008 Rosé d’un Jour, which is the greatest rosé to have ever graced the face of this planet (sadly, no subsequent vintage from Mark comes close). Coming back to the 2015 Coup de Bulle, the palate is marred slightly by a bare hint of yeastiness in the finish, but happily it is not enough to distract from the fun and frolics this wine provides. 16/20 (5/9/16)

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